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Arnold Schoenberg (Composer, Arranger)

Born: Septtember 13, 1874 - Vienna, Austria
Died: July 13, 1951 - Los Angeles, Caligornia, USA

Arnold (Franz WaIter) Schoenberg (originally: Schönberg), was a great Austrian-born American composer whose new method of musical organization in 12 different tones related only to one another profoundly influenced the entire development of modern techniques of composition.

Arnold Schoemberg studied at the Realschule in Vienna; learned to play the cello, and also became proficient on the violin. His father died when Schoenberg was 16; he took a job as a bank clerk to earn a living; an additional source of income was arranging popular songs and orchestrating operetta scores. Schoenberg's first original work was a group of 3 piano pieces, which he wrote in 1894; it was also about that time that he began to take lessons in counterpoint from Alexander Zernlinsky, whose sister he married in 1901. He also played cello in Zernlinsky's instrumental group, Polyhymnia.

In 1897 Arnold Schoemberg wrote his 1st String Quartet, in D major, which achieved public performance in Vienna on March 17, 1898. About the same time, he wrote 2 songs with piano accompaniment which he designated as Op. 1. In 1899 he wrote his first true masterpiece, Verklärte Nacht, set for string sextet, which was first performed in Vienna by the Rose Quartet and members of the Wiener Philharmoniker on March 18, 1902. It is a fine work, deeply imbued with the spirit of Romantic poetry, with its harmonic idiom stemming from Wagner's modulatory procedures; it remains Schoenberg's most frequently performed composition, known principally through its arrangement for string orch. About 1900 he was engaged as conductor of several amateur choral groups in Vienna and its suburbs; this increased his interest in vocal music. He then began work on a choral composition, Gurre-Lieder, of monumental proportions, to the translated text of a poem by the Danish writer Jens !tter Jacobsen. For grandeur and opulence of orchestral sonority, it surpassed even the most formidable creations of Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss; it calls for 5 solo voices, a speaker, 3 men's choruses, an 8-part mixed chorus, and a very large orch. Special music paper of 48 staves had to be ordered for the MS. He completed the first 2 parts of Gurre-Lieder in the spring of 1901, but the composition of the remaining section was delayed by 10 years; it was not until February 23, 1913, that Franz Schreker was able to arrange its complete performance with the Wiener Philharmoniker and its choral forces.

In 1901 Arnold Schoemberg moved to Berlin, where he joined E. von Wolzogen, F. Wedekind, and O. Bierbaum in launching an artistic cabaret, which they called Überbrettl. He composed a theme song for it with trumpet obbligato, and conducted several shows. He met Richard Strauss, who helped him to obtain the Liszt Stipendium and a position as a teacher at the Stern Conservatory. He returned to Vienna in 1903 and formed friendly relations with G. Mahler, who became a sincere supporter of his activities; G. Mahler's power in Vienna was then at its height, and he was able to help him in his career as a composer. In March 1904 Schoenberg organized with Alexander Zernlinsky the Vereinigung Schaffender Tonkünstler for the purpose of encouraging performances of new music. Under its auspices he conducted on Jan. 26, 1905, the first performance of his symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande; in this score occurs the first use of a trombone glissando. There followed a performance on February 8, 1907, of Schoenberg's Kammersymphonie, Op. 9, with the participation of the Rose Quartet and the wind instrumentalists of the Wiener Philharmoniker; the work produced much consternation in the audience and among critics because of its departure from traditional tonal harmony, with chords built on fourths and nominal dissonances used without immediate resolution. About the same time, he turned to painting, which became his principal avocation. In his art, as in his music, he adopted the tenets of Expressionism, that is, freedom of personal expression within a self-defined program. Schoenberg's reputation as an independent musical thinker attracted to him such progressive-minded young musicians as Alban Berg, Anton Webern, and Egon Wellesz, who followed Schoenberg in their own development. His 2nd String Quartet, composed in 1908, which included a soprano solo, was his last work that carried a definite key signature, if exception is made for his Suite for Strings, ostentatiously marked as in G major, which he wrote for school use in America in 1934. On February 19, 1909, Schoenberg completed his piano piece Op. 11, No. 1, which became the first musical composition to dispense with all reference to tonality. In 1910 he was appointed to the faculty of the Vienna Academy of Music; in 1911 he completed his important theory book Harmonielehre, dedicated to the memory of G. Mahler; it comprises a traditional exposition of chords and progressions, but also offers illuminating indications of possible new musical developments, including fractional tones and melodies formed by the change of timbre on the same note. In 1911 he went again to Berlin, where he became an instructor at the Stern Conservatory and taught composition privately.

His 5 Orchesterstücke, first performed in London on Septtember 3, 1912, under Sir Henry J. Wood's direction, attracted a great deal of attention; the critical reception was that of incomprehension, with a considerable measure of curiosity. The score was indeed revolutionary in nature, each movement representing an experiment in musical organization. In the same year, Schoenberg produced another innovative work, a cycle of 21 songs with instrumental accompaniment, entitled Pierrot Lunaire, and consisting of 21 "melodramas," to German texts translated from verses by the Belgian poet Albert Giraud. Here he made systematic use of Sprechstimme, with a gliding speech-song replacing precise pitch (not an entire innovation, for Engelbert Humperdinck had applied it in his incidental music to Rosmer's play Königskinder in 1897). The work was given, after some 40 rehearsals, in Berlin on October 16, 1912, and the reaction was startling, the purblind critics drawing upon the strongest invective in their vocabulary to condemn the music.

Meanwhile, Schoenberg made appearances as conductor of his works in various European cities (Amsterdam, 1911; St. Petersburg, 1912; London, 1914). During World War I, he was sporadically enlisted in military service; after the Armistice, he settled in Mödling, near Vienna. Discouraged by his inability to secure performances for himself and his associates in the new music movement, he organized in Vienna, in November 1918, the Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen (Society for Private Musical Performances), from which critics were demonstratively excluded, and which ruled out any vocal expression of approval or disapproval. The organization disbanded in 1922.

About that time, Schoenberg began work on his Suite for Piano, Op. 25, which was to be the first true 12-tone piece consciously composed in that idiom. In 1925 he was appointed professor of a master-class at the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. With the advent of the beastly Nazi regime, the German Ministry of Education dismissed him from his post as a Jew. As a matter of record, Schoenberg had abandoned his Jewish faith in Vienna on March 25, 1898, by being baptized in the Protestant Dorotheer Community (AKonfession); 35 years later, horrified by the hideous persecution of Jews at the hands of the Nazis, he was moved to return to his ancestral faith and was recpnverted to Judaism in Paris on July 24, 1933. With the rebirth of his hereditary consciousness, he turned to specific Jewish themes in works such. as Survivor from Warsaw and Moses und Aron. Although Schoenberg was well known in the musical world, he had difficulty obtaining a teaching position; he finally accepted the invitation of Joseph Malkin, founder of the Malkin Conservatory of Boston, to join its faculty. He arrived in the USA on October 31, 1933. After teaching in Boston for a season, he moved to Hollywood. In 1935 he became a professor of music at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and in 1936 accepted a similar position at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he taught until 1944, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. On April 11, 1941, he became a naturalized American citizen. In 1947 he received the Award of Merit for Distinguished Achievements from the National Inst. of Arts and Letters. In the USA he changed the original spelling of his name from Schönberg to Schoenberg.

In 1924 Schoenberg's creative evolution reached the allimportant point at which he found it necessary to establish a new governing principle of tonal relationship, which he called the "method of composing with 12 different notes related entirely to one another." This method was adumbrated in his music as early as 1914, and is used partially in his 5 Klavierstücke, Op. 23, and in his Serenade, Op. 24; it was employed for the first time in its integral form in the piano Suite, Op. 25 (1924); in it, the thematic material is based on a group of 12 different notes arrayed in a certain pre-arranged order; such a tone row was henceforth Schoenberg's mainspring of thematic invention; development was provided by the devices of inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion of the basic series; allowing for transposition, 48 forms were obtainable in all, with counterpoint and harmony, as well as melody, derived from the basic tone row. Immediate repetition of thematic notes was admitted; the realm of rhythm remained free. As with most historic innovations, the 12-tone technique was not the creation of Schoenberg alone but was, rather, a logical development of many currents of musical thought. Josef Matthias Hauer rather unconvincingly claimed priority in laying the foundations of the 12-tone method; among others who had elaborated similar ideas at about the same time with Schoenberg was Jef Golyscheff, a Russian émigré who expounded his theory in a publication entitled "12 Tondauer-Musik." Instances of themes consisting of 12 different notes are found in the Faust Symphony of Franz Liszt and in the tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra of Richard Strauss in the section on Science. Schoenberg's great achievement was the establishment of the basic 12-tone row and its changing forms as foundations of a new musical language; using this idiom, he was able to write music of great expressive power. In general usage, the 12-tone method is often termed "dodecaphony," from Greek dodeca, "12," and phone, "sound." The tonal composition of the basic row is devoid of tonality; an analysis of Schoenberg's works shows that he avoided using major triads in iany of their inversions, and allowed the use of only the 2nd inversion of a minor triad. He deprecated the term "atonality" that was commonly applied to his music. He suggested, only half in jest, the term "atonicality," i.e., absence of the dominating tonic. The most explicit work of Schoenberg couched in the 12-tone idiom was his Klavierstück, Op. 33a, written in 1928-1929, which exemplifies the clearest use of the tone row in chordal combinations. Other works that present a classical use of dodecaphony are Begleitungsmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene, Op. 34 (1929-1930); Violin Concerto (1934-1936); and Piano Concerto (1942). Schoenberg's disciples A. Berg and A. Webern followed his 12-tone method in general outlines but with some personal deviations; thus, A. Berg accepted the occasional use of triadic harmonies, and A. Webern built tone rows in symmetric groups. Other composers who made systematic use of the 12-tone method were Egon Wellesz, Ernst Krenek,. René Leibowitz, Roberto Gerhard, Humphrey Searle, and Luigi Dallapiccola. As time went on, dodecaphony became a lingua franca of universal currency; even in Russia, where Schoenberg's theories were for many years unacceptable on ideological grounds, several composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich in his last works, made use of 12-tone themes, albeit without integral development. Ernest Bloch used 12-tone subjects in his last string quartets, but he refrained from applying inversions and retrograde forms of his tone rows. Igor Stravinsky, in his old age, turned to the 12-tone method of composition in its total form, with retrograde, inversion, and retrograde inversion; his conversion was the greatest artistic vindication for Schoenberg, who regarded I. Stravinsky as his most powerful antagonist, but Schoenberg was dead when I. Stravinsky saw the light of dodecaphony.

Schoenberg's personality was both heroic and egocentric; he made great sacrifices to sustain his artistic convictions, but he was also capable of engaging in bitter polemics when he felt that his integrity was under attack. He strongly opposed the claims of Hauer and others for the priority of the 12-tone method of composition, and he vehemently criticized in the public press the implication he saw in Thomas Mann's novel Doktor Faustus, in which the protagonist was described as the inventor of the 12-tone method of composition; future historians, Schoenberg argued, might confuse fiction with facts, and credit the figment of Mann's imagination with Schoenberg's own discovery. He was also subject to superstition in the form of triskaidecaphobia, the fear of the number 13; he seriously believed that there was something fateful in the circumstance of his birth on the 13th of the month. Noticing that the title of his work Moses und Aaron contained 13 letters, he crossed out the 2nd "an in Aaron to make it 12. When he turned 76 and someone remarked facetiously that the sum of the digits of his age was 13, he seemed genuinely upset, and during his last illness in July 1951, he expressed his fear of not surviving July 13; indeed, he died on that date. Schoenberg placed his MSS in the Music Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; the remaining materials were deposited after his death at the Schoenberg Inst. at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Schoenberg's centennial in 1974 was commemorated worldwide. A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute began pub!. in 1976, under the editorship of Leonard Stein.

Schoenberg's personality, which combined elements of decisive affIrmation and profound self-negation, still awaits a thorough analysis. When he was drafted into the Austrian armed forces during World War I (he never served in action, however) and was asked by the examiner whether he was the "notorious" modernist composer, he answered "someone had to be, and I was the one." He could not understand why his works were not widely performed. He asked a former secretary to Serge Koussevitzky why the Boston Symphony Orchestra programs never included any of his advanced works; when the secretary said that Serge Koussevitzky simply could not understand them, Schoenberg was genuinely perplexed. "Aber, er spiedoch Brahms!" he said. To Schoenberg, his works were the natural continuation of German classical music. Schoenberg lived in Los Angeles for several years during the period when I. Stravinsky was also there, but the two never made artistic contact. Indeed, they met only once, in a downtown food market, where they greeted each other, in English, with a formal handshake. Schoenberg wrote a satirical canon, Herr Modernsky, obviously aimed at I. Stravinsky, whose neo-Classical works ("ganz wie Papa Bach") Schoenberg lampooned. But when Schoenberg was dead, I. Stravinsky said he forgave him in appreciation of his expertise in canonic writing.

In his private life, Schoenberg had many interests; he was a fairly good tennis player, .and also liked to play chess. In his early years in Vienna, he launched several theoretical inventions to augment his income, but none of them ever went into practice; he also designed a set of playing cards. The MSS of arrangements of Viennese operettas and waltzes he had made in Vienna to augment his meager income were eventually sold for large sums of money after his death. That Schoenberg needed money but was not offered any by an official musical benefactor was a shame. After Schoenberg relocated to Los Angeles, which was .to be his final destination, he obtained successful appointments as a professor at the University of Southern California and eventually at the University of California, Los Angeles. But there awaited him the peculiar rule of age limitation for teachers, and he was mandatorily retired when he reached his seventieth year. His pension from the University of California, Los Angeles, amounted to $38 a month. His difficulty in supporting a family with growing children became acute and eventually reached the press. He applied for a grant from the munificent Guggenheim Foundation, pointing out that since several of his own students had received such awards, he was now applying for similar consideration, but the rule of age limitation defeated him there as well. It was only after the Schoenberg case and its repercussions in the music world that the Guggenheim Foundation cancelled its offensive rule. Schoenberg managed to square his finances with the aid of his publishing income, however, and, in the meantime, his children grew up. His son Ronald (an anagram of Arnold) eventually became a city judge, an extraordinary development for a Schoenberg!

More Photos

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2009)

Arnold Schoenberg: Short Biography | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings of Works for Orchestra | Arnold Schoenberg & Bach

Arrangements of J.S. Bach's Works

Bach-Schoenberg: Prelude & Fugue in E flat major ("St. Anne"), BWV 552, arranged for orchestra (1928)
Bach-Schoenberg: Chorale Prelude Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV 654, arranged for orchestra (1922)
Bach-Schoenberg: Chorale Prelude Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist, BWV 667, arranged for orchestra (1922)

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr (N. Hovesch), chorale arrangement for alto, violin, cello & piano

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr


Bach-Schoenberg: Chorale Prelude Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV 654, arranged for orchestra (1922)

Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele


Links to other Sites

Arnold Schoenberg (
Arnold Schoenberg (Wikipedia)
Arnold Schönberg (Classical Music Pages)
The Music Chamber: Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg Biography (Naxos)
Arnold Schoenberg (W.W. Norton)
Classical Net: Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg: Tonality: Austrian Composer, Professor, Father of 12-Tone and Serial Technique (Suite 101)
Arnold Schoenberg (Brittanica)
Arnold Schoenberg biography (Kunst der Fuge)

Arnold Schoenberg Center
Arnold Schoenberg Archives (USC)
Arnold Schoenberg at Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music
Wayne Shoaf’s Schoenberg Discography
Arnold Schoenberg (Find a Grave)
Arnold Schoenberg: Complete List of All Internet Sites



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